Doctoral Teaching Requirement

Unless otherwise stated, all doctoral program requirements apply equally to PhD and DES students.


Success as a Computer Scientist depends not only on the ability to generate and explore new ideas but also on the ability to communicate those ideas effectively. For this reason, all students are required to develop and exercise presentation and teaching skills as part of their doctoral education.  Students are required to fulfill two “teaching units”, ideally approximately the total workload of half-time for one semester, but the actual workload may vary widely.  The two teaching units may be completed during a single semester or spread over multiple semesters, not necessarily consecutive.  Both teaching units must be for courses (1) approved by the department’s Academic Committee as Computer Science courses. including courses jointly offered between Computer Science and another department, (2) where the CS department is responsible for staffing (assigning Instruction Assistants), and (3) occur during a regular academic semester while the student is enrolled in the doctoral program.

[Note: The teaching requirement does not apply to any grandfathered CVN-DES students but does apply to all other DES students as well as MS/PhD and PhD students.]


Every doctoral student must complete two (2) teaching units.  There are several options for accumulating teaching units:

1. Serving as an assistant, where the teaching units are assigned by the Computer Science Department’s Instruction Assistants Chair.  Assistants for a given course offering may be granted 1/2, 1 or 2 teaching units depending on course enrollment and other factors determined by the IA Chair. Further information is available on the IA Chair website.
2. Serving as the instructor for a 1-point or 1.5-point course, which counts as one (1) teaching unit.
3. Serving as the instructor for a 3-point or 4-point course, which counts as two (2) teaching units.

Serving as an assistant is the default.  All instructor (as opposed to assistant) assignments must be approved by the Academic Committee Chair. Both assistant and instructor assignments must also be approved by the student’s advisor.

The teaching units must be accumulated via regular academic-year lecture courses offered by the Columbia University Department of Computer Science, including COMS courses devoted to the Data Science Institute (COMS 4121 Computer Systems for Data Science, COMS 4721 Machine Learning for Data Science, CSOR 4246 Algorithms for Data Science).  Teaching or assisting during summer session or for another Columbia department, Columbia Video Network (CVN), School of Professional Studies (SPS), another institution, or any other organization or office, does not qualify towards satisfying the teaching requirement.

Teaching units must be acquired while formally enrolled in the doctoral program (MS/PhD, PhD or DES), not while enrolled in any other degree or non-degree program. Most students complete their teaching units during their second or third year in the doctoral program, but there are no timing restrictions on which semesters (prior to MPhil) students can do their teaching units.

We recommend that new doctoral students not complete teaching units during their first year, unless they have previously taken Columbia courses (e.g., as an undergraduate or MS student).  However, some first year (even first semester) doctoral students with no prior Columbia affiliation can and do complete teaching units, typically but not necessarily assisting the course(s) where their advisor is the instructor.


Paid (compensated) work does not count towards the teaching requirement.

However, PhD students may be funded for one semester by the department, either the last semester in which they complete the final unit(s) of the teaching requirement or during a later semester (even though the student may not be teaching during that later semester).  The timing of the departmental funding is determined by the advisor in consultation with the Department Chair and IA Chair, and cannot be requested by the student.

This departmental funding is offered instead of GRA or fellowship funding, not in addition.   The stipend, tuition and fees support is identical to GRAs.

Special arrangements may be made for students funded through internal and external fellowships to fulfill the constraints of their program. Some of these funding sources may require additional teaching beyond the departmental requirement.  However, the doctoral teaching requirement is indeed a requirement, never waived, regardless of funding source, including self-supported or employer-supported students: all doctoral students (other than CVN-DES) must complete at least two teaching units.


After completing the mandatory teaching requirement, PhD students making satisfactory progress, and with advisor approval, may apply for paid (compensated) instruction or instruction assistant (IA) positions when available.  All instruction assignments must be approved by the Academic Committee Chair.  IA assignments are made by the IA Chair. Paid work does not count towards the teaching requirement.


Independent of the doctoral teaching requirement, on-campus graduate students (including terminal MS) may voluntarily apply to serve in some teaching capacity for summer courses. The courses offered and payscale vary from year to year. Note that summer teaching does not count towards satisfying the doctoral teaching requirement. It is not necessary to complete the doctoral teaching requirement prior to summer teaching.


Last updated on June 4, 2024.